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All Adventure Sports activities are hazardous by nature and need an efficient rescue service to avoid fatal accidents

Adventure Sports were introduced in Kashmir on a regular basis as an “Active Tourism” activity in early seventies of the last century by establshing an Adventure Tourism Wing in the Directorate of Tourism. The seven Ski and Mountaineering Instructors trained by the then Gulmarg Ski School subsequently named as the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering (IISM) were absorbed in the wing. With theestablishment of the Adventure Wing in the Tourism Department, the Adventure Tourism arrivals received a boost. A large number of domestic and foreign travel agencies started regular groups for trekking, mountaineering, rafting and skiing in winter. Before the turmoil of the nineties the adventure tourism had received a big boost. Almost 40 to 50 foreign mountaineering expeditions used to visit Kashmir. The trekking groups were over a few hundred. The increase  in adventure groups necessaciated quick and efficient rescue arrangements. To cater for these activities the Adventure Wing set up a Rescue Co-ordination Committee. The Committee comprised of representatives from Air Force, Army (High Altitude Warfare School), Police Wireless Organisation and the Tourism Department. The Committee worked out streamlined and quick reaction methods for rescue of adventure enthusiasts in distress. Rescue was always arranged on verbal requests by various agencies and the written formalities were completed subsequently. In fact, the Union Ministries of Home and Defence had authorised in addition to normal District Magistates, the Divisional Officers of the Tourism Department (Deputy Directors Tourism) to place demands for aerial and other rescues including the surface rescues by specialised teams of the High AltitudeWarfare School at Gulmarg.

The most important requirement for mounting a rescue mission is the receipt of information by the quickest means. In initial stages, this was done through the Police Wireless Organisation who were authorised by the Ministry of Communication to accept and transmit rescue messages for lifesaving free of cost through all Police Wireless Stations. Subsequently, the Tourism Department had also set up its own High Frequency Wireless Network wuth stations at Srinagar, Jammu, Kargil, Leh, Padum and Delhi. All the Tourist Offices at these places were in HF Radio Contact contrinuously. The network was set up after obtaining a regular licence from the Ministry of Communications and importing the latest wireless equipment from Australia. This set up was a great help in arranging rescue of foreign and indian mountaineers and trekkers in distress. A number of dramatic rescues were arranged from Nun Kun area of Ladakh and Kolahoi area in Kashmir.

In order to train local instructors in rescue a number of rafting coaches from Nanthahala Outbound Centre of USA and from Newzealand were invited by the department. These instructors stayed in the valley from a couple of months to almost a year and trained the local instructors in rescue. The turmoil of nineties caused a big disruption in adventure activities especially trekking in the valley. However, the heli-skiing and skiing at Gulmarg and mountaineering and trekking in Ladakh continued and is still going on at an appreciable scale. Gulmarg continues to have a “Ski Patrol” supervised by a foreign coach for rescue during winter.The rafting in the valley especially on Sindh River at Sonamarg and Lidder River in Pahalgam has been regularly going on even at present.

Recently therewas a rafting accident in Pahalgam area in which a brave heart Rouf, a localrafting guide gave his life to save five tourists. This is an act of the highest bravery and devotion and needs praise from one and all. However, subsequently, there was another accident in which two persons died. Apart from rescue this incident highlights lack of control on these adventure activities which are hazardous in nature and entail observation of certain basic safety rules. Normally, this would not have happened if there had been a proper rescue set up and strict control on these activities. This incident has once again highlighted the need for reviving the earlier rescue set up which had been operating in seventies and eighties when the adventure tourism was at its peak. In many European Countries including England and France, there are regular rescue organisations which not only initiate quick rescue missions but also regularly patrol adventure sports areas to monitor various activities. Keeping in view the present traffic in the field of Adventure Tourism it may not be viable to have a full fledged rescue organisation like some European countries. It would be ideal to use the services of the existig organisations by utilising the resources of the same and co-ordinating the activities of these for rescue of adventure tourists as well as local boys undertaking various adventure sports. In order to achieve these objectives, it would be essential to eitherhavea separate Directorate of  Adventure Tourism as suggested earlier in these columns or revive the Adventure Tourism Wing in the present Directorate of Tourism as it existed till nineties or so. There are a number of trained instructors in various fields in Kashmir who can be contacted to form a core rescue group. It would also be useful to revive the Rescue Co-ordination Committee so as to streamline rescue operations whenever required. As the future trend in tourism at present seems to be on Adventure Tourism, it may be worthwhile to keep the Rescue part in view.

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired) (Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir)


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